New hybrid aims to keep pace with carmaker's rivals

Not wanting to get left behind in the race to develop hybrid cars, Nissan Motor Co. on Tuesday unveiled the environment-friendly version of its Fuga sedan.

Known as the Infiniti M in North America and Europe, Nissan's first foray into mass-produced hybrid vehicles will go on sale in Japan on November 2 with a price tag of Y5.8 million (€51,410), the company announced at a press conference at its headquarters in Yokohama, south of Tokyo.

Nissan has not announced the release date in the US or Europe, although it is understood it will be in the early part of next year.

At 19 km per liter, the new Fuga is capable of double the mileage of the conventional gasoline-engine version, which was first released in November 2009. It will be substantially more expensive than the conventional sedan, however, which retails for Y4.3 million (€38,117).

Toshiyuki Shiga, Nissan's chief operating officer, told reporters at the launch that the company expects to sell 200 units a year in Japan but substantially more than that in the US, where the Infiniti has already proved popular.

It will be up against some stiff competition, however, as Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius hybrid surpassed the 2 million sales mark in early October. Honda Motor Co. also offers hybrid versions of its Insight, Fit and CR-Z vehicles.

In recent years, Nissan has placed more emphasis on producing zero-emission cars, such as the Leaf electric vehicle, which is scheduled to be delivered in December, but it is clear that it fears being left behind by its rivals in the hybrid sector.

The new Fuga adopts Nissan's original one-motor two-clutch parallel hybrid system, which the company calls its Intelligent Dual Clutch Control, and incorporates a range of advanced environmental technologies.

The system connects the high-response electric motor and the 3.5-litre VQ35HR V6 engine directly to the transmission, without the need for a traditional torque converter, the company said. This simplified system helps improve the car's fuel efficiency.

The Fuga has a lithium-ion battery - which marks it out from the Prius, which uses nickel metal hydride batteries - and is able to charge and discharge at a rapid rate, contributing to high-speed and precise control of the electric motor and optimum clutch control.

The result is an exceptionally smooth transition between the two systems and direct acceleration response, the company said.

JR

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